"Dear Panyi Matka, As a Roman Catholic with an unending love and passion for Eastern Christianity, the Priesthood, and my girlfriend, I want to know if you could provide me with some guidance as to the possibility of moving into the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church and becoming a married priest. Thank you and may God be with you and your family always. In Christ, S---."
My first interior response was along the lines of- here is another Latin-rite Catholic 'using' us Byzantines for our traditional Liturgy/married priesthood possibility/opportunity to be a big fish in a very small pond instead of one in five thousand at the local Roman-rite church. He would put up with our smallness and different-ness for a year or two and then go back to his Latin roots (literally- I think the writer is Latino or Italian in origin) But then I got a hold of myself and re-read his question.
Father Maximos of Holy Resurrection Monastery has stated that a person's primary vocation is either celibacy or marriage. This might seem counter-intuitive because the priesthood is an eternal mark on the soul while marriage is not, but one should begin with discerning whether celibacy or marriage is God's plan for their life. The priesthood is a possibility with both a vocation to celibacy (a vocation to celibacy makes being a monk or priest monk possible) and marriage for a man.
But the Roman-rite has not had a married priesthood as a normal matter of course for hundreds of years. So what does this mean for a Latin-rite man's discernment process? Even if he likes Liturgy and theology and the Church and the idea of becoming a priest, if he has discerned marriage, the priesthood should be off the table. The diaconate is a distant possibility, but diocesan policies usually limit study for the diaconate to a man who has been married for many years. So as heartless as it sounds, a Latin-rite man who has discerned marriage (yes- even before he has found a future wife-possibility) should realize that the priesthood is not available to him. He should not attempt to finagle a way such as become Anglican and then attempt a change to Roman-rite Catholicism or become Byzantine-rite and then really be Roman-rite with bi-ritual faculties. This is just not right or holy.
My husband- from the old country where most priests are married with children- discerned both marriage and a hoped-for call to the priesthood when he was seventeen. Everything education-wise and professionally has a connection to his priesthood and his obligation to support his family. When he was in seminary in his country, his bishop invited those seminarians who planned on remaining celibate to study for their Master's degree in Rome. He knew that he planned on getting married, so he declined the invitation. His integrity was more important than that. And I believe that God has rewarded his honorable interactions with his bishop. He was able to study in France for two summers and in Austria for a year. He was given permission to start a ministry in the United States. But he has never been to Rome.
So in a very roundabout way, I am advising the writer to be honorable. If you have discerned marriage, then that is what you must do. If you feel the Byzantine rite truly calling your heart, then become involved with the closest church and begin the process to officially change your rite. I would hope that your girlfriend would change as well. You should change your rite with no thought to a future priesthood. You need to live about two years of being only Byzantine before you should contact the bishop. Practically, the Romanian and Ukrainian eparchies are more open to married men working towards the priesthood, but the Ruthenian eparchies are more pan-cultural and American.
Be honorable and be honest with yourself. If your dream as a priest involves Ash Wednesday ash distribution, not singing Alleluia during Lent, preaching in front of a thousand people, rosaries and adoration, the Byzantine-rite will not fulfill the dream. This is why living a Byzantine life for about two years is important for you to discern if this is the life you want. In addition, every pre-seminarian and seminarian (of all rites) must realize that they will or won't be ordained at the bishop's pleasure. The priesthood is not a right even when one has all the education. In the Byzantine rite of ordination, the bishop asks the people- Is he worthy? and the candidate hopes and prays that the people will sing, "Axios!"
on a very practical note: a married man hoping to be ordained a (Byzantine-rite) priest should figure out how he will support himself and his family. Byzantine-Catholic churches are generally small and poor. If it is very small (like our two missions), he can plan to work an outside job. If grandma or auntie live close by and are willing and the church is too big to be away from, the wife might work outside the home. Different families have different solutions. The writer needs to prepare himself for a future with or without the priesthood.
....And maybe most importantly- the wife needs to be enthusiastic about a possible priesthood. She doesn't need to delude herself into thinking that all will be sunshine and roses. I knew that the day of my husband's priestly ordination was the day that satan really had the desire to destroy him and his family. But I was still game for the adventure. But if the girlfriend/wife is not hopeful and positive about it, stop. This may mean that he should not pursue this path. He was married first. As painful as it might be, he is called to be married first and then find a way to serve our Lord in His Church- just not with the priesthood.